Bluesman T-Model Ford (James Lewis Carter Ford) started playing late in life, releasing his debut album Pee-Wee Get My Gun in 1997 at the age of 74 years (give or take a year or two). Ford's unique take on the music is an inspired mix of rough-n-tumble, Delta-born juke-joint jams and stripped-down Chicago style blues, with a side helping of the hypnotic Mississippi Hill country rhythm. During his lengthy life, Ford has lived the blues as well as sung about them...he's worked in sawmills and logging camps, driven a truck, and experienced more than his share of run-ins with "Johnny Law."
Ford would be the first to tell you that he's a bad mother…and he brings a sense of menace to his music that few bluesmen can muster. The Ladies Man is Ford's 7th album, recorded live during one afternoon session at the Planet Sound Studios in Wichita, Kansas. The album features Ford and his acoustic guitar bangin' away on song after song, backed by a young band that includes guitarist Aaron Moreland and harp player Dustin Arbuckle of the Kansas blues-rock trio Moreland & Arbuckle. For the blues purist, the raw energy of The Ladies Man was created with no overdubs, minimal mixing, and a little Jack Daniels from the flask that 'T' is known to carry with him everywhere!
T-Model Ford's The Ladies Man
While much of Ford's back catalog has the bluesman accompanied only by his drummer Spam, working with a full band has done little to temper the primal fury of Ford's mournful wail or sparse, albeit complex style of guitarplay. The sound of "Two Trains," for instance, is forged in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Ford's vocals accompanied only by his fractured chords and Arbuckle's gritty harp blowing. "I'm Coming To Kick Yer Asses" is an interesting spoken-word interlude with Ford talking about the early days of his career.
With the spry, mid-tempo "44 Blues," Ford's voice raises to an almost-yodel as he embroiders his angular guitar notes on top of Moreland's circular rhythm, Arbuckle's harp embellishing the song with Sonny Boy Williamson charm. "That's Alright" is an engaging shuffle with a slow-walking guitar line and staggered percussion that's heavy on the brushes, the instrumentation complimented by Ford's soulful vocals on intermittent verses. The album-closing "Hip Shaking Woman" is the sort of indigo-hued blues on which Ford has built his reputation, a juke-joint rocker with heavy guitar, almost shouted vocals, a slight boogie rhythm and, lurking near the surface, the shadow of menace.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Even with a full band to back him, T-Model Ford's music is raw, stripped-down to its primal roots, informed by the Delta and influenced by the Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf songs that Ford heard as a kid. Mash it all together and you have a sound as unique as any bluesman to rise up out of the Mississippi backwoods. The Ladie's Man showcases a collection of solid country blues as old as the style itself but owing allegiance to no one single influence. As Ford himself says, "I didn't borrow from nobody, I went after 'em...." (Alive Naturalsound Records, released January 12, 2010)